Sam Kaufmann

Sam Kaufmann, a Waunakee High School junior, has learned more about his community and his descendants while photographing grave sites for Findagrave.com.

A relatively new online tool is helping people fill out their family trees, and one Waunakee High School student is a major contributor.

Findagrave.com is a free website where people can look for their relatives and see pictures of their headstones. In addition, they can, as in the case of Sam Kaufmann, photograph the gravesites and upload the pictures to the website.

Kaufmann, a junior at Waunakee High School, said he became interested in this pastime because his grandmother is older and can’t travel to the cemeteries herself.

“I went out and took a few pictures and I decided liked it and there was a lot more I could do to improve it,” Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann said he found memorials were absent from the site, along with lists of relatives of the deceased. Pictures were often missing.

The website has an app, allowing Kaufmann and others to upload photos of those gravesites to Findagrave.com.

Kaufmann has added over 500 pictures at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Cemetery. He’s also traveled to cemeteries at St. Peter Catholic Church, Marxville, Dane and Vienna.

“And it keeps getting bigger,” he said.

Kaufmann goes to cemeteries and takes picture after picture then uploads them to his desktop and then to the site. He can also add ages, genders and other information.

His documentation has inspired a television news story, and this week a multimedia journalist was scheduled to travel with him for the documentation.

Kaufmann found he is related to many of the people whose gravestones he had documented. The work has allowed him to learn more about them and the community as a whole, he said.

“You learn more about the history of the community and the people that made it possible,” Kaufmann added. From that, he’s gained a greater respect for the community and their contributions.

“Sometimes, I’ll add a little biography, for example what they’ve done for our town in their life. They founded our EMS; they were the first chief for the fire department; they were the first village president. Things like that.” Kaufmann added.

When people pass on, that history is preserved on the website.

“I felt that it’s particularly important to do this because you know people want historic preservation at a village level,” Kaufmann said.

He’s been taking pictures for the past year and looking at newspaper archives.

If there were a more organized historic preservation effort, Kaufmann said he would be prepared to contribute. He would have information about small things that may have happened but not documented.

He was also able to see where people settled and the countries they came from, mainly Ireland and Germany, including England.

He said among his relatives are the Kalscheurs and Shillinglaws.

“I knew I was kind of related to everybody. This solidified more about what I heard,” he said. For instance, his mother and a neighbor are related, but now they know they are third cousins.

Kaufmann has honed his research skills through the work, which comes in handy as he writes letters to the editor and as the opinion page editor for the Purple Sage, the Waunakee High School newspaper, he said.

Anyone can research and document the gravesites and look up or add information about their family, he said.

Kaufmann said he’s documented just about all there is from the cemeteries in town, but other cemeteries have few pictures on the site.

“But I’ve kind of found that I enjoy doing it; I’m going to keep going with it. Now I’m primarily going to focus on cemeteries that need the most help.” he said

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